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Arsenal renew rivalry with Barcelona - key points to consider

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It’s the tie Arsenal have been dreading for two months.

And this week, they finally go head-to-head with Barcelona as the Catalan giants visit the Emirates Stadium for their Champions League clash on February 23.

The last time they met, the Gunners ran them close at the first knockout stage, but eventually lost 4-3 on aggregate in controversial circumstances after securing a historic first-leg victory.

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So with Tuesday's meeting being the clubs’ first matchup for five years, how have the teams changed since then – and what can we expect from the game?

Classic

If history is anything to go by, we could be in for a classic. It will inevitably be built up as the game where two very similar football philosophies collide, as it has been in recent years.

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Their last tie saw the Gunners take a 2-1 lead to Catalonia after late strikes from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin secured a dramatic win for Arsene Wenger’s men.

The return leg saw Dutchman Van Persie receive a harsh second yellow card with Arsenal leading the tie – before Barcelona eventually took full advantage to seal their passage through to the quarter-finals.

Of course, Messi and co. went on to lift the trophy as the team was hailed as one of the greatest of all-time.

Alternatively, we could be in for an exhibition in footballing masterclass. Barcelona are potentially looking to rival that squad and that is largely down to possessing the most fearsome attack in world football.

Arsenal's Dutch forward Robin van Persie

Trident attack

The deadly trio of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Messi have destroyed defence after defence this year – not least arch-rivals Real Madrid, who were tonked 4-0 on their own ground. The bragging rights are firmly with Luis Enrique’s men.

Enrique deserves credit, too. The Spaniard scored against Arsenal at Wembley in a 4-2 victory for Barca in 1999 and has gone on to lead the team from the dugout with plenty of success already – winning the treble in his debut season while overseeing the side go a record 32 matches unbeaten to date.

Their last defeat of any sort came at the hands of Sevilla on October 3 and have won their last seven league matches in a row – Arsenal, by contrast, have only picked up 12 points from the last 21 available.

But there could be hope for Arsenal after they halted the 14-game unbeaten run of Bayern Munich earlier in the season, in a game that displayed their ability to turn up for the big occasion.

UEFA Champions League - "FC Bayern Munich v Arsenal"

They also ended a seven-year long hoodoo for English clubs at the home of Olympiakos with the crucial 3-0 success that won them their place in the knockout phase.

Make no mistake, this is a different Arsenal to the one from 2011. They stopped their trophy rot in 2014 and after defending the FA Cup successfully last year, they look ready to challenge to bigger and better things at long last.

It is also a team, albeit belatedly, that has discovered an inner steel that wins games through quality rather than good, old-fashioned heart and desire.

With multiple superstars now firmly in place at the club, the Gunners certainly have the potential to hurt Barcelona against a defence that has not been tested too often this season.

But their own defence will have to be as resolute as ever to counter the threat Barca’s ‘MSN’ pose.

Arsenal v Hull City - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round

Koscielny is key

The man they’ll be looking to is Laurent Koscielny – after the Frenchman gave one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt in their victory five years ago – although he did give away the decisive penalty in the second leg.

Now a more polished centre-back, the Gunners No. 6 is regarded as one of the Premier League’s best defenders.

This is set to be the key battle of the tie – but with Arsenal having one eye on the Premier League and Barca seemingly strolling towards a successive domestic title – there may be more temptation for Arsene Wenger's side to put increased efforts into more realistic aims.

Though it would be hard to imagine a Wenger side employing that strategy without becoming Europe’s laughing stock.

In fact, anything other than a repeat Arsenal miracle it could very easily turn into something rather ugly.

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Topics:
UEFA Champions League
Barcelona
Premier League
Thierry Henry
Lionel Messi
Football
Arsenal

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